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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
Michigan Heritage Awards

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Photo by Mary Whalen

Photo by Mary Whalen

Photo by Mary Whalen

Frederick Wenson
1999 awardee, Farmington Hills (Oakland County), palm frond braider

Palm-frond braiding is a widespread Christian custom associated with Palm Sunday. In many cultures, worshipers take blessed palm fronds home from the Palm Sunday service. Sometimes the fronds are braided or twisted into crosses, amulets, and other objects and given to family and friends who keep them until the next Palm Sunday.

In the Wenson family, palm braiding has developed into a treasured tradition. In the 1930s, Katherine Marie Hunzicker Wenson was asked by her church, the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit, to braid palm fronds for each of the 10 to 12 celebrants of the Palm Sunday mass. She recruited her son Frederick ("Fritz"), then 13, to help. Until then, Kathrine Wenson had made small items braided from palm such as crosses and boxes for children to take as gifts to teachers and nuns at school. "My mom was never taught what she did with palms," Fritz remarked. "When she was in grade school the nuns taught a class on how to make little crosses with palms but nothing like what mom developed herself." (1)

Fritz's mother created large, elaborate floral-like bouquets from palm fronds. With Fritz she braided palm fronds for the archbishop of the greater Detroit Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, who carried them in the Palm Sunday procession. It soon became a family tradition for mother and son to compete in providing two separate palms from which the archbishop would choose. When Fritz's was finally chosen, he knew he had achieved greater mastery of the art. After arthritis restricted his mother's activity, Fritz continued the family tradition, eventually teaching his children. He and his son, Tony, who is most interested in braiding the palms, continue the intergenerational rivalry to see whose palm will be chosen by the archbishop. What started as a simple kindness toward the clergy by his mother has evolved to a deeply personal symbol of the Wenson family's commitment to their church and to each other.

(1) Wenson, Fritz. Interview with LuAnne G. Kozma, Farmington Hills, Michigan. 9 April 1995.

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